NEWS UPDATE: Former Miss. beef plant operator indicted in federal probe

Associated Press

OXFORD – Former beef plant operator Richard Hall Jr. has pleaded guilty to charges of mail fraud and money laundering related to the failure of the state-backed facility in north Mississippi, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

U.S. Attorney Jim Greenlee said Hall entered the plea Wednesday in federal court in Oxford. He said the plea agreement calls for an eight-year prison term.

Hall also pleaded guilty to three state counts of mail fraud in Yalobusha County Circuit Court, said District Attorney John Champion. Champion said prosecutors have agreed to another eight-year sentence on the state charges.

No date has been set for sentencing.

Champion said a lot attention has been on the money lost to the state from the plant, but he said local residents, many of whom worked at the plant, lost their livelihood and income.

“Those people can feel some sort of justification … not only for them but for the taxpaying citizens of the state,” Champion said.

State Auditor Phil Bryant said there were many reasons for the failure of the beef plant including “well-intentioned but ill-conceived legislation.”

Bryant said the schemes of Richard Hall led to the failure of the plant.

Hall is freed on $100,000 bond, Greenlee said.

The $43.5 million processing plant opened in August 2004 with 400 workers but closed three months later because of equipment failure. Citing inadequate cash flow, former owner Richard Hall Jr. defaulted on a $35 million state-guaranteed loan.

Greenlee said Hall will cooperate in the continuing investigation of the beef plant. Hall's was the only indictment announced Thursday by prosecutors.

The state on June 2, 2005, paid off the $34.2 million balance on the state-guaranteed loan to Community Bank, which financed construction of the Oakland processing plant. Lawmakers used money from a $100 million tax settlement with MCI, the former Clinton-based company known as WorldCom, to retire the debt.

The state has invested $55 million in the plant, including grants, consulting fees and upkeep.

The investigation began in late 2004, after the plant was closed by Hall.